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Kelly Rakowski

Meet a real renaissance woman.

MONOGRAM: List your name, current profession, and place of residence:

KELLY RAKOWSKI, Photo Editor, Brooklyn, NY

MONOGRAM: You’ve found success as an archivist, photo editor, textile designer, blogger, and graphic designer. It’s rare to see someone who has so seamlessly – and successfully – done so many things at such a young age. How many of these professional paths have overlapped?

KELLY: Everything slowly melted into the next. I started out as a graphic designer, an art book designer to be specific. While working at my design job, I started an image-based blog curating images of textiles, pottery, hand-painted signs, hippies, jewelry, bizarre things. I became so obsessed with images of weavings and textiles that I taught myself to weave using a children’s book. My image obsession got the best of me and my career meandered into photo editing and art direction. My focus now is photo direction at an architecture and design magazine and image research for my lesbian culture Instagram called @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y.

MONOGRAM: Do your various creative endeavors influence each other in any way?

KELLY: Yes. Because of my design background, I’m drawn to images that include lettering or typography or graphics. Many pics posted on Herstory have a literal message – from protest signs to t-shirts to graffiti. I’m definitely into images where style is on point. I love to look at what people are wearing over the years and then categorizing it as #lezstyle on Instagram – overalls, flannels, sneakers, and/or caps.

MONOGRAM: How do you know when it's time to move on from a personal project or career path?

KELLY: If I’m not stimulated that’s when I need to leave. I need to have an active brain and feel motivated by my work, to feel passionate leaning towards obsession. The worst moments for me are feeling dull at a desk while life passes by.

MONOGRAM: How did the Herstory project come about?

KELLY: I wanted to learn more about lesbian culture, books, movies, people, places, movements, etc. In one of my early research stints, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of images of lesbians while digging online in the Lesbian Herstory Archives digital collections. I was so inspired by the collection of images I decided to curate and exhibit them on Instagram. @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y quickly expanded beyond the LHA finds as I kept unearthing images from other online collections, Flickr, Google image searches, submissions, the library, and books found on the streets of Brooklyn’s old school lesbian neighborhood, Park Slope.

MONOGRAM: Can you explain the overarching mission for Herstory?

KELLY: I focus on lesbian culture and lesbian imagery from the 1800s to early 2000s. The focus is very narrow but much needed. It’s challenging to find representations of lesbians even within LGBT archives. It started as a personal project of self-education, having never taken women's or gender studies classes. I felt I was lacking in knowledge – so @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y is very much about learning about books, films, and ideas created by or about lesbians. But also, it’s still just a social media project and definitely meme friendly. My most popular post was an image of Jodie Foster being interviewed in the early '80s with text asking, “Do you have a steady boyfriend?” A blank stare “no” was the answer, at least in this image.

MONOGRAM: Are there plans to expand in any way?

KELLY: I have plans to take @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y off Instagram and into a website – featuring lists of lesbian books to read, movies to see, artists to know, celebrities to love, along with republishing old essays and interviews from our elders. I also work on a collection of wears with the LA/NY based feminist shop OTHERWILD. We launch two collections a year, including t-shirts, bags, caps, pins, and patches all inspired by images I’ve found and posted on @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y.

MONOGRAM: We have a mutual interest in vintage magazines with beautiful type and imagery. What is your favorite place to discover the most inspiring versions?

KELLY: I love going to the NYPL Picture Library. There is a great resource on the web called “Independent Voices” (described as Open Access Collection of an Alternative Press) where I found dozens of vintage feminist magazines, all scanned. My other real-world, go-to place is the Lesbian Herstory Archives, which is filled floor to ceiling with books, binders, and filing cabinets full of inspiration from across decades. The LHA are in my neighborhood and easy to pop into.

MONOGRAM: Have you come across any style icons in your research?

KELLY: If you haven’t seen the likes of Annemarie Schwarzenbach you are in for a treat. She’s drop dead gorgeous and stunning in her androgynous styles. She wore suits and ties, slacks and sweaters. Born in 1928 into a wealthy Swiss family, Annemarie was a writer, journalist, photographer, and traveler. She had many tortured love affairs, one with young writer Carson McCullers, who wrote, “She had a face I knew would haunt me for the rest of my life.” Tragically a life-long morphine addict, Annemarie took her own life at the age of 34.

MONOGRAM: Tell us about your favorite vintage t-shirt. How and when did you acquire it?

KELLY: It’s a tie between the '90s ribbed GAP tee in cream I bought at an art lady's vintage shop in Maine and a black and white striped vintage Japanese tee I bought at my friend’s vintage store in Chicago called Kokorokoko. Oh, and I found an Ellen the sitcom t-shirt at her shop, too. Love it.

MONOGRAM: What’s your favorite way to style a t-shirt?

KELLY: I’m in a XXL Hanes pocket tee at the moment. I’ve been buying them in thrift stores or at Target. I like to style them with black biker shorts, high heel clogs, and gold jewelry. Also, a cap. That’s me.

MONOGRAM: Lightning round: describe yourself in terms of the following…

ERA: 1920s NYC
LOCATION: Blankets in parks
BEVERAGE: Rum and Ting
RITUAL: Morning coffee
TAGLINE: Femme Top Of Your Dreams

PHOTOGRAPHY: Jason Frank Rothenberg